They tell me that Om is the sound of the Universe. The sound of it's creation and the sound that will be left when all the others noises are gone. Ok, so before any yogis out there start getting all zen-nazi with me [grin] can I just state for the record that my sense of humour can be a little sharp, so if that’s going to bother you – move along! There’s nothing to see here!
I’m not saying that Om is total nonsense – really I’m not! To paraphrase something my teacher read out the other morning – ‘the symbol for OM is important because the four parts represent the four states of being’. The key word here is REPRESENT.
No one suggests that the symbol for ‘Om’ IS the four states of being – that it manifests our reality or exists on some existential level. No, we accept that it’s a symbol and, as such is powerful because it REPRESENTS all these things – and symbols can be powerful – as we know from our Mudras... and the golden arches, the swastika and the swoosh... amongst other things.
On that basis, the sound Om, can be said to REPRESENT the sound of the universe and for this reason maybe it's powerful. It is also powerful for several practical reasons: it can be said that the vibration of the sound resonates and makes a physical impact and we can say that the action of the chant brings oxygen into the system, focuses the mind and regulates the breath in preparation for Ujjiyi breathing. All, important stuff.
However, the universe is at least 15 billion years old. Evidence suggests that before this there was void. After this there was gas and eventually matter. There was no life: nothing to witness these events or to create a memory of this time. Therefore no one: not you or I; not the yogic sages; no religious icons; not even the greatest scientific minds of this, or any, generation can say, with any basis of fact, what sound was made – or indeed if any sound was made – at the creation of the universe.
We can guess, we can suppose, we can, of course, mythologise – but we can’t KNOW. So to state as a fact, with a full stop at the end, that OM is the sound of the Universe, is specious.
That is not to say you can’t believe this! Believing something that has no rational basis, but which feels right on an instinctive level is the foundation of all Religion! So whilst I do not agree with this practice as a rationale for a belief system – I also realise I am in the minority on this point!
But I do think it’s important to be aware of the difference between BELIEF and FACT. And to remain open to the possibility that your own beliefs, if not based in fact, may be completely incorrect. Historically, confusion between this two crucial ‘truths’ – belief and fact – has been the cause of almost every war and every prejudice the world has seen. Currently of course, we have a climate of religious fanaticism – where confusion between belief and fact leads people to hate and even murder those who give credence to a different ‘truth’.
Furthermore, since the zealots of every persuasion tend to be loud and forceful in their opinions, whereas the rationalists tend to be more circumspect, we have reached a point where the free thinkers in our society are being steamrolled by superstition and mythology. This is a Bad Thing! This is bad for everyone!
In the spirit of Ghandi’s invocation that we should “be the change we wish to see in the world” I think it’s important that rational people, the free thinkers, speak out against superstition where it is presented as fact. I believe a rational society will be a civilised society and who knows – maybe if people can be persuaded to give more weight to the laws of nature, physics and geology – and less credence to blind faith and ‘gut feeling’ – then maybe one day we will be able to call ourselves civilised.
So I am afraid, whilst I have absolute respect for all my fellow yogis and yoginis and I do not seek to offend, I will continue to raise a gently scornful eyebrow when you assure me that you know, without any doubt, what sound was made by an explosion 15 billion years ago.
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